As part of our continuing efforts to pursue the National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s (NHAS) call for a more coordinated response to the epidemic in the United States, Federal agencies recently completed a review and update to the HIV/AIDS information available on Benefits.gov.
The mission of Benefits.gov is to reduce the expense and difficulty of interacting with the government while increasing citizen access to government benefit information. The site’s core function is the eligibility prescreening questionnaire or “Benefit Finder.” Answers to the questionnaire are used to evaluate a visitor’s situation and compare it with the eligibility criteria for more than 1,000 federally-funded benefit and assistance programs. Each program description provides citizens with the next steps to apply for benefit programs of interest. Benefits.gov is a collaborative effort of 17 Federal agencies, and is managed by the Department of Labor. The site has been visited more than 50 million times and more than 11.2 million citizens have been referred to agency benefit programs. Users include the general public, persons seeking benefits for themselves, health care providers, case managers, state and local health departments, Federal government policymakers, program developers, and advocacy groups, among others.
After a review last summer of the HIV-related programs featured on Benefits.gov, we conferred with the site’s administrators and identified several enhancements that could be made to better serve users seeking information about HIV-related services and benefits. We then worked with the NHAS Federal Leads Work Group—composed of representatives from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs as well as the Social Security Administration—to compile information about seven additional programs to be added to the site. Short narratives highlighting the nine benefit programs, including six from HUD and three from DOL, are now part of the Benefits.gov database.
In addition, Benefits.gov created an HIV/AIDS benefits page to list these and other relevant benefits available to people living with, at risk for, and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. This information is available in English and Spanish.
Benefits.gov also now includes several HIV-specific questions in the online pre-screening tool to assess individual eligibility and more effectively direct users to locate appropriate programs. Finally, Benefits.gov also has added the AIDS.gov HIV Testing and Care Services locator widget to several pages, which will also help visitors identify nearby services.
“By ensuring that Benefits.gov features the full range of Federal benefits and services for people living with HIV/AIDS, we hope to facilitate improved access to this information and the available benefits and services to a broader population,” said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases. Dr. Valdiserri also noted that these efforts will be bolstered by the outreach Benefits.gov concentrates on several key populations including low income individuals and families, caseworkers serving at-risk populations, Veterans, and students and educators.
Editor’s note: Dr. Kosub was on detail to OHAIDP when this work was conducted.